ACTNews, MADAGASCAR – Four years of drought, the worst in decades, along with deforestation caused by people burning or cutting down trees to make charcoal or to open up land for farming, have transformed the area into a dust bowl.
With precious few trees left to slow the wind in this once fertile corner of southern Madagascar, red sand is blowing everywhere: onto fields, villages, and roads, and into the eyes of children waiting for food aid parcels.
“There is nothing to harvest. That is why we have nothing to eat, and we are starving,” said mother-of-seven Tarira, standing at a remote World Food Programme (WFP) post near Anjeky Beanatara, where children are checked for signs of malnutrition and given food.
Tarira had brought her four-year-old son Avoraza, who has been struggling to put on weight, to collect sachets of a peanut-based product known as Plumpy, used to treat malnourished children.
“There are seven, so there was not enough food. Plumpy was not enough for him,” she said, holding Avoraza by his thin arm.
Like many others in the region, Tarira and her family have sometimes been reduced to eating a type of cactus known locally as raketa, which grows wild but provides little nutritional value and gives stomach pains, she said.
The United Nations’ IPCC climate change panel says increased aridity is already being observed in Madagascar and forecasts that droughts will increase. At the height of the food crisis in the south, the WFP warned the island was at risk of seeing “the world’s first climate change famine.”